On Friday January 16 the Black Hollywood Education Resource Center kicked off its 22nd annual African American Film Marketplace (AAFM) with an awards ceremony at the Harmony Gold Theatre honoring a host of talented filmmakers, including pioneering director Charles Burnett.

Burnett, who received the Ivan Dixon Award of Achievement, directed the classic 1991 film To Sleep With Anger. The film stars Danny Glover and tells the story of a mysterious man who helps to strengthen the bonds in a middle class Black family.

“I’m very thrilled,” Burnett said of his award. “It feels great because I’m a big fan of Ivan Dixon.”

For many, Burnett is considered a pioneer of independent Black filmmaking.

“(His accomplishments) gives you inspiration because you see someone who looks like you that’s done it,” said writer Floyd Marshall, Jr.

Marshall’s short film, A Child of God, chronicles the moment when a young man who is transitioning shares the news with his family. The film premiered at the marketplace this weekend and was directed by Angelique Marshall.

“To be in the same setting with someone such as him, it’s just phenomenal,” Marshall, Jr. said. “To Sleep with Anger was a phenomenal film.”

Burnett rose to prominence during his time at UCLA film school where he and fellow classmates, including honoree Julie Dash, paved the way for independent Black filmmakers.

During a time where Black cinema was often limited to Blaxploitation films such as Shaft and Foxy Brown, Burnett’s work was notable for its realistic portrayal of African American families and relationships.

“A lot of us came into filmmaking right after the Civil rights movement or during the civil rights movement,” Burnett said. “So our goal was to make films that represent Black people or use films as a means for social change.”

That approach is what brought Burnett to prominence in the 80s and 90s.

“It was all about trying to be honest and making films that represent us.”

Other honorees of the night were Ron Brewington (producer of the Actor’s Choice), Julie Dash (filmmaker) and Billy Woodberry (filmmaker), all of whom received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Additionally Larry Chatman received the President’s Award for his work as production manager and production coordinator with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment.

For the filmmakers participating in this year’s market, it could be said that Burnett’s groundbreaking career has perhaps laid the foundation for their achievements.

“He’s really outstanding,” said producer Joy Parris. “And you can learn a lot from someone who’s been in the business that long.”

Parris’s film, Sexless After 45, also premiered at the AAFM this past weekend and was written and directed by Joy Shannon. The short film chronicles the life of a married woman’s discontent with the amount of sex she’s getting.

The film screenings were held at Raleigh Studios on Saturday January 17 and 18.